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Thursday, October 4, 2012

SOULS AT SEA (1937)

This handsomely produced seafarin’ historical never makes it to port, but the pieces hold some interest. Bookended with Gary Cooper on trial for murder, it flashes back to his stint on a slave ship only to quickly reveal his true purpose as an abolitionist who gets pulled in by British authorities to help demolish a ‘human traffic’ conspiracy. Helmer Henry Hathaway puts on a brief, but vivid look at the slave quarters below deck, but the big theme is soon sidelined to concentrate on the buddy/buddy relationship between Coop & shipmate George Raft. In a twist, Cooper winds up sailing to America for British authorities anxious to stop Henry Wilcoxon’s human trafficking cabal, but he’s just as concerned about Frances Dee, Wilcoxon’s out-of-the-loop sister. It sounds promising, and Cooper lays on as much poetic charm as heroics, reciting HAMLET, pondering the classics, even harmonizing with Raft. But the whole third act goes missing, replaced by a big ship explosion. Meanwhile, an impressive sounding supporting cast (Robert Cummings, Joseph Schildkraut, Harry Carey) have almost nothing to do. Presumably, Paramount was trying to repeat on LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER/’35 which established Cooper’s action chops & made Henry Hathaway an A-lister. But where that film’s male trio of Cooper, Franchot Tone & Richard Cromwell had derring-do to spare; this trio of Coop, Raft & the all-but-missing Cummings left their ‘do’ on the cutting-room floor.

DOUBLE-BILL: Over @ Warners, Michael Curtiz & Errol Flynn set the bar for seafarin’ swashbucklers. The first, CAPTAIN BLOOD/’35, which also has an eye on the slave trade, isn’t as polished as later collaborations, and maybe the better for it. And what a difference those impossibly lush Erich Wolfgang Korngold scores made in putting them over!

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